Although it has the look and feel of a Vitaphone short, MIXED NUTS was made at the Hal Roach Studio, and the proof of that can be heard on the soundtrack: the familiar, zippy background music of LeRoy Shield places this comedy firmly on the Roach lot. But instead of Laurel & Hardy or Charley Chase this two-reel short features an ensemble of lesser-known players, including several British comics who were appearing in supporting roles for Roach at this time. L&H buffs will recall Jack Barty's memorable turn as the crazed butler from OLIVER THE EIGHTH, while Don Barclay was best known for playing fussy, flustered Franklin Pangborn types. Here, each of the featured players is given a couple of scenes, a couple of quips and a gag or two, but no one player dominates the proceedings.
Oddly enough for a Roach comedy the premise of MIXED NUTS is grounded in topical political satire aimed at the New Deal, although the satire is of a very lightweight (and light-hearted) nature. The film begins at a city council meeting where an unidentified politician announces that the government has released $50,000 for the relief of unemployed plumbers. This prompts applause, but also a pointed question from an angry woman who wants to know what the government is going to do for the members of her profession: chorus girls. The politician glibly replies that the administration has set aside moneytwo million dollars, no less!for the re-education of chorus girls, "to fit them for the better things in life." And next thing you know we're at Mrs. Twitchett's Exclusive Finishing School for Girls, a once-prestigious academy apparently fallen on hard times. Mrs. Twitchett (played by the under-appreciated Nora Cecil, dryly funny as usual) expresses her dismay as the first wave of chorines arrives to be, well, re-fitted. The rest of the film consists of a series of blackout gags concerning the young ladies' classroom experiences. Imagine an Our Gang schoolhouse comedy, only the students are all female, they're about 22 years old, they smoke and they're sassy: that's MIXED NUTS in a nutshell.
The quality of the humor varies from amusing to silly to downright dumb, but the over all tone of this film is so cheery, and the tempo is so brisk, there's just no point in being overly critical. My favorite scenes feature Dorothy Granger as a dame who packs a mean punch, and pert little Thelma Hill as the girl attacked by the entomology professor's Arabian Sand Fleas. MIXED NUTS is a cute comedy that's eager to please, and it made people laugh during the dark days of the Great Depression. It might even make people laugh now, when the subject of government bailouts is once again topical. I do have to wonder, though: how did those unemployed plumbers react when they found out that the government was doling out forty times more than they were getting to help chorus girls?
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